A visit to the City of Churches for the Brisbane Lions would have the Crows livin’ on a prayer in the lead-up. While the Crows have had moments throughout the season, their leaky defence came up against the highest scoring team in the competition on Saturday night. Could the Crows pull off a miracle or would the Lions continue to show why they are firmly in the Premiership mix? Here’s what made a difference from the analyst’s corner.

 

Lion’s Forwards

First, it was Joe Daniher who was removed from the Lions’ forward pack through injury, and then it was Dan McStay who joined the injury list. With key forwards dropping like MAFS contestants drop their partners, in came the returning Eric Hipwood. Just 10 months after rupturing his ACL, Hipwood rejoined his teammates on the field. While he only finished with 11 disposals and no goals, he competed well, moved smoothly and got his crumbers involved around him.

Coming into this game, the Lions have been the highest scoring side in the competition. Tonight, they continued to demonstrate their potency. While their key figureheads were missing, they have many avenues to goal and this was on full display tonight. Every time the Lions went forward, which was a lot, they looked like scoring. Charlie Cameron (4 goals), Zac Bailey (3 goals), Dayne Zorko (2 goals), Cam Rayner (1 goal), and Lincoln McCarthy (1 goal) all have the ability to play through the middle and impact the scoreboard significantly. They chase, tackle, break through contests, and kick accurately.

In recent seasons, Brisbane have been criticised for their wayward kicking in front of goal, but one of the key reasons they are 8-1, their best start to a season in may-a-decade, is their accuracy, which has continued tonight kicking 16.6. This was achieved with only seven marks inside 50, showing that they aren’t reliant on big forwards to mark, but can bring an element of chaos and pressure to the mix.

They are the clear number two seed the Lions, and it’s an exciting prospect thinking about their fleet of mid-forwards, plus their returning key forwards, facing off against the reigning, defending heavyweight champs in the Demons.

 

The Midfield Battle

We know about the vaunted midfield of the Brisbane Lions. Whenever they play, we hear Lachie Neale’s name as much as Scott Morrison mentions the economy – which is a lot, if you weren’t aware. And with good reason. The clearance battle was close all night – something that Matthew Nicks will be happy about for the Crows, given how poor they have been in that area in recent weeks. However, it was the methodology of the clearances that allowed the Lions to spread with greater success.

Ben Keays (32 disposals) and Rory Laird (27 disposals) battled manfully all night for the Crows – Keays was often the first mid to touch the ball – and were key contributors, with their small forwards, for keeping them in the game in the first half.

So much was their influence, that Dayne Zorko even mentioned it at half-time. Brisbane turned the screws after half-time and flexed their muscle in the contest. While they won the contested ball by 15, it was their class and clean possession that was the difference. More often than not, whether it be Neale (36 disposals) or Lyons (24 disposals), the Lions were able to leave the contest and spread, giving their forwards the first look. This allowed them to outscore the Crows by nine goals to two in the second half.

The Crows battled and competed around the contest well, given they had limited assistance in the ruck, but ultimately it was the polish and composure of the Lions midfielders that won out on the night. Adelaide supporters should be excited looking forward though, given their players did battle hard all night in the coal face, and even won the centre clearances 13-10.

 

The Missing Piece

Cam Rayner has been a favourite of mine for a while now. The Lions missed him in 2021 and the way in which he has returned to the field in 2022 is surely exhilarating for Lions fans. He has all the attributes we associate with some of the best players in the game – Dusty, Trac, Bont, & Danger all have explosiveness, break tackles, and change the game when they are firing. Rayner does the same with the Lions.

Throughout the night, Rayner got involved in scores. One of the best examples of his explosiveness was in the first quarter, where he sprinted 20 metres, past other players, swooped on a loose ball and thumped it forward. Not long after, he got on the end of a Lions possession chain and thumped a goal from outside 50. He is a genuine, hybrid mid-forward who has all the attributes to dominate the game. We’ve seen all of the above-mentioned players change the course of matches singlehandedly, and I think we are getting close to Rayner doing that himself.

He could be the missing piece of Brisbane’s Premiership Puzzle, taking them from contender to champion.

 

The Quarterback

Is there a better weapon from the defensive half than Jordan Dawson? Many might make a case for one of his opposing players in Daniel Rich, but the importance of Dawson for his team’s offence, I argue, is second to none in the competition. He can win his own ball, but is more valuable being the link-up player and using his elite foot skills. He was a catalyst for Adelaide getting in front in the first half and had the ball on a string. He keeps the ball low, and is pinpoint with his passes. He is central to many of the Crows scores.

In the second half, he still got involved, but a concerted team effort from the Lions mid-forwards curtailed his continued influence in the second half. Jarrod Berry and others forced Dawson to be accountable and put pressure on his disposal, which did result in some turnovers. This was a great coaching move and team plan implemented by the Lions to combat their opponent’s biggest weapon.

However, Dawson still managed to clear the congestion and find teammates in space. It is a great weapon to have, when you have a pinpoint kicker over a considerable distance.

 

Adelaide’s Small Forwards

While Taylor Walker competes and is a reliable tall option for the Crows, their other tall forwards leave much to be desired most weeks; they are about as functional and watchable as Australian political debate coverage. However, they are collecting an exciting and dangerous group of small forwards in the vein of the hobbits who vanquished the Dark Lord Sauron … and they have the hair to match!

They may not impact a whole game, but when they get a roll, they are fun to watch and hard to stop. In the second quarter, Ned McHenry and Shane McAdam shared five goals between them and pushed the Crows out to a three-goal lead. Add in James Rowe and Josh Rachele, and the Crows have some incredible firepower and dynamism inside the forward fifty. The challenge that faces them, is consistency. Can they develop their tanks and find ways to impact the game even when they aren’t running on adrenalin or have the momentum? That aside, the Crows’ small forwards are appealing to watch and were a big reason the Crows were able to find themselves in front for a portion of the game.

 

Other Things

Jackson Hately has been in and out of the Crows side since moving across from the Giants. And like a butterfly bursting from its cocoon, tonight may be the night that he builds his career from. He had 27 disposals and five tackles, and was one of his team’s better performed and most influential players on the night. There is a lot to like about this 20-game midfielder.

Keidean Coleman has two weapons attached to his legs. It doesn’t matter which side of the body he kicks from, he looks classy, smooth, and like he has all the time in the world. He is yet another player the Lions have who can quarterback their ball movement when he gets the Sherrin in his hands.

At one end of the Adelaide Oval, the goalposts got worked over. It didn’t matter which team it was, but the teams kept hitting both of them. Perhaps it’s a by-product of practising hitting the post at training and posting on social media – here’s to you Charlie Cameron.

Where was BT in the second quarter? ‘THAT WAS OUT OF BOUNDS’ would have been in full volume as Ned McHenry swooped on a ball that was in the River Torrens. He kicked a ripper goal, but the boundary umpire who was about two metres away might need to venture to OPSM this week.

Oscar McInerney came up against an inexperienced ruckman tonight, and he made the most of it. With 40 hit outs and superior bodywork, he gave his midfielders a good look at the ball all night.

A quick shout out to Tom Doedee who threw his body around all night to prevent scores and his team a chance. He is courageous and you know that you will always get a contest with him.

 

It was an entertaining game for most of the night, one in which the Crows can hold their heads high, but ultimately, where the Lions flexed their muscle and won the game fairly convincingly. With a staggering percentage of 151, the Lions spend this Saturday night on top of the ladder (Melbourne play tomorrow) and look ahead to next Sunday and their trip to the Apple Isle against the Hawks. The Crows, on the other hand, face the resurgent Saints at the Crowval (Adelaide Oval) on Saturday night which may prove more enthralling than the other event on that night.

 

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